U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell may press Beijing for information regarding a New York Times researcher arrested for allegedly passing state secrets to foreigners. Mr. Powell is scheduled to visit Beijing early next week.
The U.S. State Department says it is following the case closely after New York Times employee Zhao Yan was officially arrested Wednesday.
A State Department spokesman said Thursday that Secretary of State Colin Powell already has discussed the issue with the Chinese foreign minister but will continue to emphasize his interest in the matter.
However, Beijing officials seem unlikely to want to discuss the matter when Mr. Powell arrives for a visit on Sunday. Kong Quan, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, recently brushed aside international concerns about the case and insisted the matter is an internal affair.
Mr. Kong says Mr. Zhao is a Chinese citizen and warns unnamed outside forces not to interfere in the case.
Mr. Zhao was working as a researcher for the New York Times newspaper in Shanghai when Chinese police took him into custody on September 17.
Lawyers for Mr. Zhao, who is a Chinese national, say if he is convicted he could be executed.
Chinese authorities have not released details on their case against Mr. Zhao, although there is speculation that it stems from his work as a journalist before he joined the New York Times.
Mr. Zhao worked for a Chinese language magazine and frequently wrote about government corruption and the plight of China's impoverished farmers.
It also is possible that Chinese authorities think Mr. Zhao provided the New York Times with advance word of former President Jiang Zemin's retirement as the head of the government's military commission last month.
The New York Times has repeatedly denied that Mr. Zhao provided its correspondents with any illicit material for their stories.
Secretary of State Powell arrives in China on Sunday, as part of a four-day East Asia tour. He stops first in Tokyo on Saturday and goes to Seoul after visiting Beijing.